When news first broke that Nur Barake, a senior Hamas operative responsible for attack tunnel construction, was killed in an Israeli commando operation in Gaza, it was assumed that the operative was the target.

In the ensuing firefight, six more Hamas operatives were killed, as well as an Israeli special forces soldier. That soldier, along with a wounded comrade and others in the raid, were extracted from Gaza in a rescue mission under heavy Israeli air cover.

We wrote about the raid on November 11, 2018, Israeli Commandos Kill Hamas Tunnel Chief in Gaza.

https://twitter.com/MrRevinsky/status/1061737903062163457

Since then, things have played out like a spy novel. From public statements and reports, it appears that the raid was not an assassination effort, but an intelligence gathering operation. The firefight and deaths happened when the Israeli team was discovered.

It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s disinformation.But reading between the lines, this appears to have been an important operation and not a one-off. Haaretz reports that Hamas is claiming the team was there to plant listening devices:

The Israeli force exposed last week in Gaza was apparently planning to install a listening device, senior Hamad official Khalil al-Haya told the Hamas-run al-Aqsa television station Saturday.

Al-Haya also suggested that the special forces were trying to “build something” in Khan Yunis, saying that Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing, was “there to block them.”

A Israeli TV station reports that Hamas officials suspect Israel has been operating a base inside Gaza, and Hamas is turning itself inside out trying to figure it out. The Times of Israel reports:

Gaza’s Hamas rulers are in some disarray after their chance discovery of Israeli special forces in a raid last week, and fear that elite Israel troops have been operating for an unknown length of time under their noses in the Strip, including running a base, an Israeli TV report said Friday.

According to the Hadashot news report, which it said was broadcast under the careful scrutiny of the Israeli military censor, Hamas is struggling to figure out exactly what the IDF team was doing in Gaza. The November 11 raid, which went awry when the undercover troops were exposed, ended in a shootout and the deaths of one Israeli soldier and seven Hamas gunmen.

Hamas forces have been carrying out random searches and setting up roadblocks in recent days as they try to find more details of what Israel has been up to in the Strip, the TV report said.

Hamas believes the Israeli troops in the incident crossed into Gaza at an official crossing point, where they would have shown identity papers of some kind, the TV report said. It indicated that Hamas believes Israeli special forces maintained a military base in a house in Gaza operating under the guise of a charity, Hadashot news reported….

Hamas is asking how long had the Israeli base been operating in Gaza, and are there others, the Israeli TV report said. Apparently, the Israeli forces had cars at their disposal — including a Mercedes and a Volkswagen — and weaponry, it added….

Hamas on Thursday further claimed that the IDF forces were from the Sayeret Matkal elite reconnaissance unit, and that they crossed into Gaza via an official border crossing. The Israeli military censor permitted publication of these claims, which were not confirmed….

The authenticity of the recordings has not been confirmed by Israeli authorities, which have remained almost entirely silent on the nature and outcome of the raid.

Sayeret Matkal is the unit in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once served.

Haaretz further reports on how Hamas is desperately trying to figure out what the operation was and who was involved:

Hamas security forces in Gaza are searching for a van that they suspect was involved in a botched Israeli special forces operation that left seven operatives and an Israeli officer dead, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported on Saturday.

The report said Hamas is also searching for Gaza residents who may have assisted the operation.

According to the report, Hamas’ military wing captured spy gear that the Israeli troops planned to use to wiretap the group’s internal communications system. Citing Hamas sources, the newspaper said the operation was an attempt to replace devices that were discovered several months ago.

The Jerusalem Post adds more details on the Lebanese report:

Hamas believes that some members of the IDF task force discovered by Hamas terrorists and extracted by the IDF on November 11 are still in Gaza, the Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar reported Saturday.

Hamas terrorists are now searching for the truck used by the IDF that was left behind during the extraction operation, according to the report.

Hamas claims that it was able to recover Israeli technology meant to tap its own communication network, and that by releasing the photographs of the IDF team members it had “hit the Israeli army below the belt.”

The photographs of the Israeli fighters were released by Hamas on Thursday, leading the IDF censor to request Israeli media outlets, as well as individual Israelis, to refrain from posting the information on social media networks, as Hamas might be attempting to use such data to gain insights into the operation and those behind it.

In an interview with the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Hamas officials claimed the images were collected from their own security cameras as well as those used by private businesses in the Gaza Strip.

These are the posters circulated by Hamas, which allegedly include female Israeli agents. While Israeli newspapers are prohibited from publishing them, they are all over the internet including on Twitter via the Hamas military wing Twitter account.

https://twitter.com/qassam_arabic12/status/1066304136524767233

and on its website (auto translate):

https://www.alqassam.net/arabic/%D8%AA%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%85/14474/%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%87%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B0%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B4%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%86%D8%B3

Israel is asking Israelis not to help Hamas by sharing any information regarding the people in the posters:

In a highly irregular public statement, the IDF’s Spokesperson Unit and the Military Censor asked the public on Thursday to refrain from posting pictures or information on last week’s botched intelligence gathering operation east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, lest they be of service to Hamas.

“Hamas is currently trying to decipher and understand the incident that took place deep inside Gaza (11/11) and any piece of information, even if it is considered harmless by those publishing it, is liable to endanger human lives and harm state security,” the IDF said.

Asking the public to “act responsibly,” the military urged that images or personal information that may have been shared on WhatsApp groups or other media platform not be redistributed.

So what really went on here? Here’s my best guess.

Given how Hamas hides behind civilians as a tactic, Israeli needs very precise intelligence to minimize civilian casualties. That means Israel needs people on the ground, not just electronic surveillance. Such boots on the ground would be particularly important in locating and targeting Iranian/Hezbollah operatives and facilities hidden within civilian infrastructure.

It’s hard to imagine the Israelis exposing a team of special forces to capture within Gaza just to target Hamas. Israel doesn’t need boots on the ground in Gaza to take out Hamas commanders.

Whatever they were doing was considered worth the risk. What would be worth the risk? Iranian and Hezbollah operatives and weapons.